Archive for the ‘Travelling’ Category

Riding the roller coasters at Mt Fuji!

We recently visited Mt Fuji area in Japan. This post shares some of our experience and some tips you may find useful if you plan to travel there yourself to hike or to ride the roller coasters.

Mt Fuji, a symbol of Japan and for many climing to the top is a life long dream.


It’s only a couple of hours out of Tokyo, what a great spot to do some hiking. Then my youngest son discovered Fuji Q highland amusement park, home of some world record roller coasters and the destination became a must.

Getting to Mt Fuji

I found this very confusing when I did my research. We had a JR Rail pass, but there are no JR rail stations in the Mt Fuji area. It was hard to tell which stations listed on Hyperdia were in the Mt Fuji area. So if you are as confused as I were, here’s what we learned!


You can catch a bus to Mt Fuji from Shinjuku station in Tokyo. This bus stops in the towns where most people will stay when visiting the area and goes all the way to 5th station during hiking season.


If you are searching for travel plans on Hyperdia, search for trains going to Fujisan or Kawaguchiko station.

The last stretch of the trip is not accessible by JR Rail. So you have to take the Chuo line JR Rail to Otsuki station (covered by JR Rail pass) and then take the Fujikyoko line through to the Fuji area.  We actually managed to catch a train that went straight from Tokyo to Fuji Q Highland station near our hotel. We used our rail passes as far as Otsuki and stayed on the same train. When we got off the train at Fuji Q Highland, we paid the difference in fare for the portion past Otsuki at the ticket office.

Climbing Fuji

You can only climb to the peak of Mt Fuji in the summer, typically July & August. Most hikers start from 5th station. Ideally you want to see the sunrise from the peak, so hikers will start climbing the day before. Reserve a spot in one of the huts for a few hours sleep and then get up early in the morning to make their way to the peak. There is one path for those travelling up, and another path for those travelling down.

We found some great resources and information about climbing Fuji at

I spoke to a few people who have done the climb before our trip. Reviews were mixed. one said they climbed in pouring rain and were miserable. Another regretted staying in a hut, because it was crowded and uncomfortable so they got no sleep and wished they had hiked straight through. Another went with his wife, mother, daughter, and son. The mother turned around early not feeling well. The mother was exhausted by the time they reached the huts and refused to hike to their designated hut, so they had to pay extra to get her a spot in the first hut. The sone and father did make it to the top for sunrise. The son was suitably blown away by being able to look down at the clouds from the peak. It’s important to remember you can get altitude sickness. Also, it’s not always easy to pass others on the trail, so you the climb may take longer than you think, since you could be limited by the speed of other hikers.

We were certainly interested in climbing Fuji, but it was not a lifelong dream, so we decided we would start from 5th station early in the morning. Climb for 3 hours and then decide whether to push for the summit or turn around.

Even our conservative plans were thwarted when a typhoon moved in the day we planned our climb.

Screenshot_20160822-123617Spending a day hiking in the pouring rain surrounded by clouds, not knowing if the trails would be closed or there would be a risk of mudslides, we had to settle for looking at Fuji from a distance. If you go, I hope you have better luck with the weather. If you do want to climb, make sure you spend a few nights in the area so you have more than one day available for the climb in the event of inclement weather.  Here’s the lovely view we had of Mt Fuji the day we had planned our climb. Somewhere in those clouds is Mt Fuji, it was there yesterday!



Fuji Q Highlands – roller coasters!

So we went all the way to Mt Fuji and didn’t do any hiking, so what did we do? We made the most of it and hit Fuji Q amusement park for some serious roller coasters!


We had already decided to treat ourselves to two nights at the Fuji Q Highlands resort. We figured staying at a hotel with western restaurants and a western style buffest breakfast would work well before and after a long day of hiking. In addition, my youngest son was also eager to try the world record roller coasters at Fuji Q. Staying at the hotel meant easy access to the park. We had to book two hotel rooms to accomodate two large teenagers plus two parents. So we booked one room with a view of the amusement park, and one room with a view of Mt Fuji.  By the time we paid for two rooms it was pretty expensive, but we were only there for 2 nights and it worked out. There are certainly cheaper places to stay and cheaper places to eat walking distance from our hotel.

Tickets and Admission

You can pay to enter the park without paying for rides. Our hotel room came with free admission to the park. You can purchase a one day pass to do as many rides as you want for 5700 yen (adults) 5200 yen (teenagers) 4300 yen (kids under 12).  Since we did not have a full day to explore, we paid for individual rides.

We only arrived in Fuji Q at 3 PM, so we decided it made more sense to pay for the individual rides. The roller coasters are 1000 yen each (though you can purchase a fast pass ticket for double the price, so 2000 yen to get a fast pass tickets for the roller coasters. Fast pass users have a different entrance.

If you are purchasing tickets as you go, you purchase the tickets at the very top of the line just before you board the coaster. There is a ticket machine at the top of the entrance ramp. You are in Japan, so of course the ticket machines are cash only.

Line ups for rides

Fuji Q is notorious for long line ups. We heard horror stories of 3-4 hour waits! Japan’s train system may be the model of efficiency but Fuji Q could learn a lot about how to design rides for faster loading from Universal Studios and Disney! The roller coaster car arrives, everyone gets out, takes everything out of their lockers, leaves the platform, and then the next group of people enters, crosses to the lockers, puts everything away, gets into the roller coaster, and can finally get on their way. Luckily there are some entertaining videos to watch while you wait in the queue. A series of odd videos plus a group of five characters we dubbed the Fuji Q power rangers teaching you what NOT to do in the park (we aren’t sure which of the Fuji Q power rangers was demonstrating the do not go on the rides naked rule).

Snippet of the Fuji Q Safety videos


We scoped out the park to get the lay of the land and to see what the wait times were like for the rides. Most roller coasters had sign indicating a 1 hour 30 minute wait. The park is open until 10 or 11 PM but many of the rides closed at 9 PM. We left, found supper, and returned after supper when we figured those who came to the park from Tokyo would be headed home for the day. The plan worked, the lines were noticeable shorter. Our shortest line was 30 minutes (Fujiyama, King of the coasters), our longest line was 60 minutes (Dodonpa), Takashiba was about 45 minutes. Unfortunately Eejanaka the 4th dimension roller coaster was closed by the time we finished the other 3 rides.

The roller coasters

My husband and my youngest hit Takashiba first. This roller coaster holds the world record for the steepest drop, 121 degrees!

Next up was Fujiyama, King of the coasters. It used to hold the record for world’s longest coaster but that title has since been claimed by another Japanese coaster Steel dragon in Nagashima. As of 2016, Fujiyama is the 4th longest roller coaster in the world. The ride lasts an impressive 3 minutes 36 seconds. That is a long time to be on a roller coaster. We all loved it!



Next up was Dodonpa which accelerates to 172 kph (111 mph) in 1.8 seconds. That works out to a g-force of 4.2G which makes it the fastest launch acceleration of any roller coaster in the world. This ride will literally take your breath away!


Sadly Eejanaika was closed by the time we finished the other three coasters. Eejanaika is a four dimension roller coaster and holds the record for the highest number of spins of any roller coaster in the world. We made one more attempt to ride it before we left to continue on our journey, but by 9 AM there was already a 60+ minute wait for the ride, and we didn’t have enough time. by 9:15 when we decided to bail the line was already 90+ minutes. The famous Fuji Q lineups were back!

FYI, they have lockers at the top of the ramp as well for purses, hats, eyeglasses and jewellry, even watches had to come off!  This resulted in a blurry view of the ride for my eldest son who didn’t realie he needed his contact lenses to ride a roller coaster. You are not allowed to have anything in your pockets either, even if the pockets have zippers. There are also umbrella boxes to hold umbrellas since they won’t fit in the locker. Though it’s unlikely you would need the umbrella boxes since the signs say if it is raining, snowing, windy, or there is an earthquake the roller coasters will be closed. Glad to know they don’t run the roller coasters in an earthquake!

What do you do during a typhoon at Fuji?

During the typhoon it rained pretty steadily. Not great hiking weather and the roller coasters don’t run in the rain… so we found two ways to pass the time


Fuji Q has a bowling alley. The bowling was what you would expect, but the unexpected bonus was some very fitting videos featuring the Fuji Q power rangers when you got a strike, a spare or a gutter ball.

water rides at Fuji Q highland

Hey it’s raining, you rae going to get wet anyway, maybe we should just do the water rides! As is traditional at all major theme parks with water rides, you can purchase a poncho. At the entrance to the ride you purchase a ticket for 100 yen. You exchange the ticket for a poncho. Oddly enough they refused to exchange the ticket for a poncho until we were going to board the ride, so my plan to pick up a poncho while we walked around the park did not work out.

The previous day, the lines for the water rides were anywhere from 60-90 minutes. Well during the typhoon the lines were non-existant! So we took advantage of the inclement weather to get wet!


There are lots of signs in English in the amusement park, but there are times when the translation is less than perfect.  This was one of our favorite signs in the park:



So in sumamry. Fuji Q highlands has some fabulous rides and some impressive lines, arrive early or stay late to avoid the worst of the lines!

Mt Fuji is stunning, but if you have plans to do hiking, give yourself mroe than one day in case the weather does not co-operate!

Hapy travelling!

Nikko Japan

When we were planning our trip to Japan we found it difficult to get information, so I am writing this post so that perhaps it may help anyone considering a trip to Nikko, but it also describes some of our personal experiences on the visit.

Where is it and how do I get there?

Nikko is a town North of Tokyo about two hours by train. It’s higher altitude than Tokyo so a bit cooler, which is wonderful in August.  There are two train stations in Nikko: Tobu-NIkko and JR Nikko. The two stations are easy walking distance apart, so it doesn’t make much difference which station you select unless you are using a JR Rail pass, in which case you will want to use JR Nikko so you can use your rail pass.

Exploring on foot

Nikko is very pedestrian friendly. If you enjoy walking there are two nice 5 km loops you can follow to explore the city. One takes you along the river to see beautiful rapids, a row of buddha statues, and of course shrines and temples Smile. The other takes you past the main temples of Nikko. The 5 km loop that goes along the river also makes a good jogging route if you are so inclined. As an added bonus, stopping to pray at the buddhas or a shrine makes a great excuse for a break during your run.


Cash machines

There are not many ATMs in Nikko. So I recommend you take advantage of the 7-11 ATM in Tobu-Nikko station. As all foreigners learn very quickly, the 7-11 is your best friend when you need cash, and you need cash in Japan, especially in a smaller town like Nikko.  We were staying at the other end of Nikko from the train station and had to make a special trip into town to get cash because all the 7-11 machines are past the train station (none in the Shinku bridge Tosho-gae temple area).

Why visit Nikko?

There were three reasons we selected Nikko as a destination: The town of Nikko, Edo Wonderland and Nikko National Park.  Though many people visit it to visit the hot springs in the mountains. In winter these are the hot springs where the snow monkeys have been known to take a hot bath but we did not see any when we visited in August.

The town of Nikko

The Toshogu shrine is one of the most lavishly decorated in Japan, I’ll be honest though, we never made it there, stunning temples are everywhere in Japan, so we didn’t make visiting each one a priority.

I don’t know what it is about moving water that I find so peaceful and relaxing. I can’t get enough of the sound of rapids flowing past the rocks. As a result, I loved walking along the river in Nikko and having the beautiful Shinkyo bridge spanning the river seems only fitting. This was one of those sights that is so simple, and yet I find myself drawn to it and taking pictures of it over and over.



The walk along the river towards the Kanmangafuchi abyss was equally peaceful, the rows of buddha statues with their red bibs along the pathway. It’s easy to understand why someone chose this location to pray.


Edo Wonderland

What is it?

Edo Wonderland is a touristy historical village.  It’s aimed at Japanese tourists (limited English signage) but still fun for tourists like us who don’t speak the language.  You can easily spend a half day or possibly a full day here.

How do you get there?

You have a few choices. If you are in Nikko there is a free shuttle bus that travels from JR Nikko station to and from Edo Wonderland about once an hour, but it doesn’t leave until after 9 AM so if you want to be there when it opens, you should take the train. You can take the train to Kinugawa-Onsen from Tobu-Nikko. This is not a JR train line, so you will have to pay for tickets if you have a JR Rail pass.  Once you arrive at Kinugawa-Onsen you can either take a taxi (about 2,000 yen) or a shuttle bus (410 yen per person when we visited). The shuttle bus stop is to your right when you exit the station and leaves every 30-60 minutes depending on the time of day. We took the train and a taxi. There were taxis waiting outside the train station and outside the park and the difference in price between the shuttle bus for four people and a taxi was worth the convenience.

What do you do at the park?

The main highlight of Edo Wonderland is the shows, so make sure you check out the show itinerary when you arrive and plan your day around it. There are 4 shows that are recommended for those of us who do not speak japanese: Ninja theatre (20 mins), Magistrate’s office (20 min comedy), water show (20 mins) and ninja show (10 mins). Even these shows do contain dialogue in Japanese, but watching a ninja fight or neat tricks with water is entertaining even if you don’t understand the jokes Smile. You should line up between 10-30 minutes before the show is scheduled to start to ensure a seat. Be forewarned, many of the shoes will have you remove your shoes and sit on the floor ( a challenge for my 6+ foot teenager and husband). If the weather is good there are some additional outside shows, parades and busker acts. The grand ninja theatre was our favorite, the choreography and timing with the sound effects was impressive!

The staff are very friendly and do their best to be helpful. There are moments reminiscent of Disney such as posing for a photo when you enter the park which you is printed and available for purchase later in the day. We were also amused when the ‘police’ came by with a wanted poster and decided I was clearly the villain they were seeking and arrested our family. Luckily they did figure out I was innocent and let us go, but it made a great photo op. We spotted the actual villain later in the day sneaking around the village bribing children with stickers so they would not give away her location to the officials.



In between shows there are different attractions you can explore. We enjoyed the ninja maze with it’s trick doors, and the ninja house. We were a little disappointed with the dungeon and mansion displays. We also toured the sword museum. But each of these exhbitits only took us between 5-10 minutes to explore. Plan your day around the shows, and visit the attractions when you have time to pass between shows.


We spent the money to try all the activities: spinning darts, ninja star (shruiken), and archery. There is an extra fee for these. You purchase tickets to try the activities in the booth, and then give the tickets to the person working the booth. You can use the activities to collect a few souvenirs.  My husband and I won fake daggers and my eldest son won rubber nunchuku at the ninja star throwing booth. I won a fan at the pinwheel darts. we won postcards everywhere else. My youngest son stunned the staff and the audience by getting 5 out of 5 pinwheel darts and won a metal sword! I think this is the equivalent of winning a giant teddy bear at the fair. He was absolutely thrilled! This has caused interesting complications for the rest of our trip since it does not fit in our suitcase and has to be carried in its box every where we go. Even when we use the luggage lockers at train stations, the sword is too big to fit! But when Carter got 4 darts in the target and they told him if he gets 5 out of 5 he wins a sword and he got that 5th dart in the target you could not wipe the grin off his face! So it is all worth it!


You can also rent Edo-era costumes to wear for the day. There were several kids around in ninja costumes, and you could pose with some of the characters from the shows after the performances. We had an opportunity to dress as Samurai elsewhere (Samurai museum in Tokyo and Kembu Samurai Theatre in Kyoto) so did not feel the need to splurge on the costumes here.

What do they have to eat?

There are lots of places to grab food at Edo Wonderland. For the less adventurous you can find some basic skewers (Yakitori), we found skewers of duck, chicken, pork, potatoes, and fried dough. On our visit, the English guide book was inaccurate. The food station marked for yakitori chicken and meat and rice bowls only sold potato and dumpling skewers. (NOTE: You can buy just about any food on a stick in Japan Winking smile, the potato on a stick was basically hash browns on a stick, quite tasty but not what we expected). We had walked past a stall selling chicken skewers earlier and eventually found what we were looking for, but not at the restaurant indicated in our guide book. There are lots of places to sit down with your food. There are also three sit down restaurants in the park even though the guide book says there is only one.

Nikko National Park

Whether you are a serious hiker, or someone who just enjoys admiring waterfalls and a light stroll through the woods, Nikko National Park is a must!

Nikko is known for it’s many waterfalls (although we had no idea this was the case until we arrived and our AirBnB host told us and provided us with an awesome map of the hiking trails!).

You can take a tourist bus from JR Nikko station (or various other stops in Nikko) to Chinguya-Onsen. You probably want to purchase the 2 day bus pass at JR Nikko Station, it’s cheaper than a return trip to the park and back, and it also gives you the ability to take the bus up and down the main strip in Nikko as well. It’s about a one hour ride from the station to the park but well worth it! I recommend boarding the bus at the start of it’s journey at JR Nikko station so you get a seat. When our bus stopped at Tobu-Nikko (the 2nd stop), not all the passengers waiting could board, and some had to wait for the next bus. Though there are some neat fold down middle seats on some buses if you find yourself standing in the aisle.

Hikes and waterfalls

When you get off the bus you can stroll 5 minutes to see a Kegon waterfall. if you want to splurge you can take an elevator to the base of the falls. Pictures never do justice to a waterfall, you have to see it and hear it to appreciate it.


There were a number of restaurants and souvenir shops in the area around Kegon falls. Then we walked up the road and took the pleasure boat across the lake. You can rent a paddleboat and explore the lake at your own pace if you wish.


We got off at the far end of the lake and hiked along an easy trail all the way up to  Ryuzu waterfall.


Then we hiked along one of the trails for 2 km through some beautiful forest. The trails were a pleasant stroll, nothing strenuous.


There are much more serious hikes if you want them. There are a number of peaks you can climb up and down in a day taking anywhere from 2 to 8 hours. Keep in mind some of the peak climbs may be closed outside the summer months due to snow.

If you purchased a bus pass, you can catch the bus back to Nikko from a number of diferent stops further up the mountain, so you can hike one way and take the bus back. If you plan to do this make sure you purchase a bus pass that covers the extra distance. There are three different 2 day passes you can purchase each provides travel further up the mountain.

Would I recommend Nikko?

20160818_200659If you like getting a little closer to nature, either as a serious hiker or simply because you enjoy an easy stroll through the woods I think you will enjoy Nikko and I recommend it! Be prepared to spend a fair bit of time either walking to get from one place to another, or waiting for the bus (it doesn’t run that often). Of course as a Canadian, I would be remiss if I didn’t recommend that if you visit during hockey season go cheer on the Nikko Ice Bucks! We met one of the players, Kevin Mitchell, when we were having dinner one night. It turns out he used to play on the same team as my husband’s cousin. It’s a small world after all! Japan is known for it’s baseball, but they have hockey too!

Tales from the Road: Why I love the Dash-8

I’m sitting on a Dash-8, that’s one of those noisy slow propeller planes, where anyone over 6 foot has to bend over to get in, and there are only 10 rows (but it is big enough to have window & aisle seats!) . As I sit here mid-flight, I am quite content. Strange for a semi-frequent traveller, you would think I would want my Airbus or Boeing with the built in entertainment system but somehow this feels just right. But why?

The Dash-8 is like the school bus of airplanes, it’s loud, it’s bumpy, it’s slow, but it will take you where you are going. I went through a period where I had a horrible fear of flying, during that time I was taking a Dash-8 every week. In discussions with the staff I discovered the Dash-8

  • has one of the best glide ratios of all commercial planes (meaning if the engine dies it won’t immediately just fall to the ground, it’ll do it a little more gradually so I can kid myself that we might even be able to land safely, please no-one tell me that’s wrong, I am still slightly nervous about flying Winking smile)
  • can land in a football field (I have been at the airport and seen jets stranded on the ground unable to take off due to the weather while the Dash-8 planes took off, they are real workhorses!)
  • Can handle huge drops in elevation (one of the attendants told me the pilots take them up and do a few big drops so they can learn exactly what the plane can handle, that way when they are on windy landings into St Johns, which is notorious for bumpy, windy landings, they understand, it may be bumpy, but everything will be fine. They told me stories of passengers screaming during landings at St Johns, mental note, take the ferry to Newfoundland.

So for a slightly nervous flier, the Dash-8 is strangely comforting.

I think another aspect is my sheer familiarity with the plane, having spent over a year working in Fredericton ages ago and flying back and forth from Ottawa every week in a Dash-8.

  • the rattle of the chassis during flight that you can sometimes stop if you put your hand up against the rattling bit of the interior.
  • The bumpiness and change of pitch coming from the propeller when you fly through the clouds
  • Row 7-10 the quiet rows in the back
  • Row 3&4 to be avoided because you have a propeller buzzing in your ear
  • Seat 1B to be avoided because you end up playing footsie with the flight attendant
  • Seat 1D excellent if you are a regular because the snacks are stored in the little cupboard in front of you, however sneaking your own snacks is not recommended until the attendants know you by name Smile
  • Seat 10E for those who need extra leg room, its the last row in the plane and you can stick your legs down the aisle

Or maybe it’s because I don’t have enough status for special treatment from the airlines, and the Dash-8 is a great equalizer.

  • I don’t have to worry about all those status folk boarding before me taking up all the overhead room. They have skycheck, I just throw my suitcase on the rack before I walk up the stairs onto the plane, knowing it will be waiting for me when I deplane.
  • No executive class seats full of fliers with more status than me looking smug to walk past as I go to my assigned cattle class seat

Yup, the school bus of airplanes, without the gum on the seats, it’s good to be back. Am I the only one who actually enjoys flying in an old beater of a plane?



Trains, Planes, and Automobiles–Tales from the Road

This week I travel from Ottawa to Montreal. I could drive, it’s about 2 hours. I could fly, but then I land about 30 mins out of downtown and have to deal with all the usual overhead of air travel not to mention Montreal drivers (although at least they are predictable, they always cut you off Smile)  or I can take the train. If you live in the Montreal/Ottawa/Toronto corridor, you know the answer to this. YOU TAKE THE TRAIN! Via First! I don’t have status on airlines (well I have enough status to get a different card and a polite smile on check-in but that’s about it). So for me travelling first class on the train which is still cheaper than flying and about the same cost as charging in mileage, rocks!

Via One, is not the same as travelling economy on the train, there is no standing in line to get a good seat. Seats are assigned, you can request window or aisle. You can show up 10 minutes before the train leaves and just walk onto the train when it arrives, so you don’t have the ‘hurry up and wait’ syndrome that is so common during travel. You sit on the train and grab one of the lap desks for your laptop as you walk to your assigned seat. The lap desk gives you room for a mouse, and your drink while preventing premature infertility due to overheating of your lap.

Once you have settled into your seat and plugged in your laptop, you connect to the free wi-fi. Then someone comes by with the menu and you select your main course and something to drink and you are not limited to tea, coffee, and juice Smile how about a nice glass of wine in an actual glass! or Metal cutlery to cut through your quiche or lasagna. I guess they aren’t worried about anyone hijacking a train (I’m hijacking the train go…uhh..that way down those train tracks…and don’t stop in Alexandria or else bwa ha ha!), you can probably bring nail clippers on a train if you want to, and bottles of shampoo that contain more than 50 mL of liquid.

The seats recline more than 6.5  degrees so if you feel like a snooze after having your chocolate truffle to finish off your meal you are all set (of course it helps if the train isn’t full, because the person behind you may not appreciate having your head in their lap).

Only a two hour train ride, so you would think not much time to get work done. But of course this is not a plane, you don’t have to wait until the seat belt sign has been extinguished to open your laptop. If you want you can talk on your cell phone from the moment you board the train until you walk off the platform at your destination (this may cause fellow passengers to want to pelt you with their chocolate truffles, but it is an option)

If train travel was like this in more places, the airlines would be in big trouble! I even debate whether to take the train to Toronto a 4 hour train ride vs a 1 hr flight.

The other thing I love about trains is that the stations are often right downtown. In Montreal I step off the train, walk into the station and across the hall to the hotel elevator. This is the way to travel!

So Thursday when I go home to Ottawa, my toughest decision will be which breakfast pastry to have with my hot breakfast and whether to take a conference call enroute or just sit back and watch a movie on my laptop. Sometimes travel isn’t so bad after all.

On the Road Again– Tipping with Loons and Bears oh my!

LooniesToday I parked at a Park and Fly lot. As I climbed into the shuttle van I glanced at the cup in the front of the van obviously intended for tips and paused. I can afford to give someone a tip, and I believe in tipping someone for good service. If only I good figure out a reasonable measure of who I should tip and how much.

Obviously you tip a waiter or bartender unless the service is downright abysmal. In general I’ll tip 15-20% most of the time in restaurants. There is nothing awkward about tipping a waiter, they hand you the bill, quietly walk away so you can choose how much to give them as a tip. I find it a bit more awkward with a doorman when you have to politely place a dollar bill or two into his hand.

The Americans may have a reputation for being less polite than Canadians, but they also have a reputation for being better tippers. When I travel in the US, by virtue of hanging around with my American friends, I have adopted the habit of keeping a few $1 bills in my wallet to hand as needed to a doorman who hails me a cab, or for a maid who stops by my room to clean up the glass deodorant container I knocked over that broke on the bathroom floor. I would happily do the same when I return home in Canada. But here’s my problem: loonies and toonies. It’s one thing to hand the doorman a dollar bill, but somehow a coin, even a coin worth a dollar or two dollars feels cheap. Our smallest bill is $5 but am I really going to give a $5 bill to a guy for blowing a whistle and asking a taxi to pull up to the curb or for picking up my suitcase putting it in a van and driving me in his shuttle bus to the terminal.

With maid service I can always leave a larger bill at the end of my stay. That doesn’t work so well with my Park and Fly driver who is different every time I have a flight, or the doorman who calls me a cab.

I love loonies and toonies. When I think I am broke, I can find enough change in my purse to buy lunch or pay for parking. But is handing a doorman a loonie or toonie a thank you or an insult? Maybe I should keep the cool Olympic loonies on hand so I can help them complete their Olympic coin collection, or make sure I hand out the anniversary Montreal Canadians loonie when I travel in Quebec. Or maybe I should just take advantage of the countries that still have bills for lower denominations, anyone know the exchange rate for a Kenyan dollar?

To finish up, my top 5 odd or awkward tipping situations, maybe I really am a scrooge.

  1. The hairdresser when the machine where I swipe my credit card doesn’t give me the option of adding the tip myself.  What am I supposed to do when I have no cash and they’ve already entered the amount?
  2. The person who washes your hair at the salon, I once had one blatantly hinting at tips, do I really have to tip the shampoo person as well as the stylist? Doesn’t the stylist share tips with the hair washer?
  3. Bag check at hotels, do I tip the guy who takes my bag or the guy who brings it back, or both?
  4. Sometimes I wish I could tip certain airline staff, there are some who really do go above and beyond with a smile, those people make a difference in my day!
  5. The food court tip jar beside the cashier, especially when you pick up the food and drinks yourself and just walk to the cash to pay.  I am really expected to tip you for taking a slice of pizza and putting it into a cardboard box for me?

Racing around town – tales from the road

racetattooIt’s amazing how often you visit a town for a business trip and never see anything other than the hotel and whatever you manage to glimpse during the taxi ride between the airport and the hotel. I’ve always been a big believer in trying to get out of my hotel room from time to time. This week in Seattle, I got to enjoy sights and views that even the locals never get to see when I ran in the SeaFair Torchlight 8km race with my running partner Christopher Harrison.

Running races in different cities is fun to begin with, Fort Langley BC with a view of the coastal mountains, Atlanta with and endless up and down course around the zoo. This week Seattle. The start is by the Space Needle where all the participants for the Seafair parade were gathering and preparing. It was weird going for a warm up run and having to swerve to avoid Boeing workers, tuba players, and Mrs. “insert town name here”  wandering down the street nibbling on cotton candy. Between the 5km and 8km (which started together) there were nearly 4000 runners. Seafair has a pirate theme, so there were many runners in eyepatches, hats, or carrying cutlasses into the corrals. I settled for a pirate tattoo on my calf.

The news helicopter hovered overhead filming the start. We started on a steep downhill and turned a corner, about 500 meters into the course we entered the parade route. Almost 250,000 spectators watch the Torchlight parade, and they had nothing to do while waiting except cheer on the runners. Moms, dads in lawnchairs, or actual couches! lined the streets. Groups of kids came out and held out their hands to give the runners high fives. Downhill, lots of cheering, kids reaching out to give you high fives…let’s just say the pace for that first kilometer was impressive! In fact the whole first 3kms was nice and quick. Hmmmm….maybe we should have foreseen what was coming. At the 4km mark they had the first water stop.  We went around the corner and found ourselves running up an on-ramp to a raised highway that runs along the waterfront in Seattle. On-ramps seem wayyyyyy longer when you are running up them, than driving up them. I swear that was 500m non-stop of steep uphill. Once on the highway, the view was spectacular! An unobstructed view of the harbour and the Space Needle (our finish line) in the distance. I was feeling tired but okay at 6 km and had planned to pick up my pace for the last km. But another hill shortly after 6km drained my energy, then another hill, then another! we finally reached the second water stop at the 7 km mark but at that point finishing held more appeal than water. A short flat stretch gave me hope that I could pick up the pace a bit and then we turned the corner and discovered the last 400 M of the race was pretty much all uphill, and a steep climb! That was just cruel! I did manage a small burst of speed on the 30 m flat stretch at the very end but that was all I could manage. (it was enough to beat Christopher though, so for those of you who care the standings are: Susan 2, Christopher 1 and one tie, I savour every win because he is getting faster!)

At the finish line the parade was about to get underway so we got to watch bands lined up and ready to go, cheerleaders warming up and Chinese dragon dancers practicing their craft. Not my fastest race but certainly a fun one (well except for all those “insert expletive here” hills.) And a race shirt makes for a great souvenir. So if I am coming to a town near you let me know if there are any good races coming up Smile



To Check or Not To Check – tales from the road

DSCN0114I don’t quite qualify as a road warrior (I have to pay for drinks in airports), but I do spend a fair bit of time flying hither and yon (I have sufficient cachet with my airline that I can call a different number for reservations so I don’t wait on hold with the general public).

Further evidence of my non-supermegaflyer status is the mere fact that I considered checking a bag for a 3 day trip. Checking a bag is simple, just toss everything in a medium sized suitcase and don’t worry too much about space, or how big a tube of toothpaste you pack. Truth be told, I feel strangely superior when I line up to board with nothing but my little backpack and see those obnoxious business travellers with laptop bags and a suitcase that “clearly” would not fit in the little wire rack on display prominently beside the gate. I feel downright smug when they get on the plane only to find that all the overhead compartments are full knowing that that *I* took a bit of extra time and checked my suitcase. *I* am not holding up other passengers and taking up entire overhead bins with my suitcase, laptop bag and coat. But the more I travel, the more the dark side beckons…when you land on Friday and leave on Sunday, with the magic of online check-in, you can go straight to security! That means an extra 15-20 minutes on the patio sipping a glass of wine. We’ve all had that moment, standing at the luggage carousel wondering just how long it can possibly take to unload the bags, where we find ourselves thinking, if only I hadn’t checked a bag, I would already be on my way.

DSCN0111With the new job, and the increased number of trips, I took the first step, I went shopping for a suitcase specifically to use as a carry on. It has a zip up pouch in the front that is perfect for holding a ziploc bag of liquids and gels, Heck, it even came with its own ziploc bag! This week there is a possible strike by Air Canada customer service, so Air Canada is actually recommending that you avoid checked bags. So the time has finally come. Packing took longer than usual as I carefully rolled up each shirt (Yes I am roller not a folder!) and patted myself on the back for wearing sandals so I didn’t need to pack socks. Then I had to pack my running gear, wow running shoes take up a lot of space! Luckily you can jam running shorts and a pair of running socks into each shoe. Now time to pack up my bathroom bag. I had no idea how many things I usually pack that exceed 100mL! Toothpaste, facial cleanser, shampoo and conditioner, and I usually use a leave-in conditioner as well (have you seen my hair? and that is with the conditioner to keep it getting out of control, trust me you don’t want to see it without), even my deodorant is a gel! Digging through the bathroom drawers and cabinets, I managed to find a toothpaste sample the dentist gave me last year, a deodorant that is a solid instead of a gel, and travel bottles for my hair products. Now I just have to put this in the handy dandy little ziploc bag that came with my suitcase. Hold on a second! This bag is one of those little sandwich size ziplocs! There is no way my moisturizers, hair products, make-up (I have a liquid foundation and concealer), will fit in this tiny bag! I am convinced the person who made up the rule about the tiny little ziploc bag was a guy! They can get away with packing a mini shaving cream and toothpaste and use all the free goodies provided by the hotel. I suppose I can use the hotel shampoo, as long as I have my own conditioner, and I suppose I can skip the leave in conditioner for 2 days (so no making fun of my hair at Prairie Dev Con this week if I look like the wicked witch of the west after walking through a wind tunnel). Now if I put the big things in first, then I can just make it all fit! DSCN0113

I glide expertly through security, casually putting my laptop and clear plastic bag of liquids and gels into the tray, and efficiently putting it all away again on the other side. Looking like a pro! George Clooney would be proud. But now I sit at the gate, glancing surreptitiously at the little display that says “Your carry-on must fit in this bin”, and my flight originated in Montreal, so it’s possible that when I board there won’t be any room left in the overhead compartments.

But on the other hand my first flight was delayed which would have caused me to miss my original connection. Because I hadn’t checked a bag, I was able to just rebook on a later direct flight. Now my direct flight is delayed, but I know when I land I can just walk out the door as soon as the plane lands and grab a cab to my hotel. Apologies to my fellow passengers, but I think I am converted.

Safe travels!